The Richmond game, trouble on the road, and whether there is any reason for hope going forward.
Most of the world will be focused on New Orleans and the 49ers playing the Ravens this evening. Here, we have more important things on the mind. The Richmond game once again exposed the Musketeers as a team with crippling weaknesses. Now sitting at 5-3, Xavier has a good deal of work to do to earn what now looks to be the all-important first round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament.
The Richmond game
Joel: I know you're ready to freak out, but the ship hasn't sailed on this conference season. We dropped three of our last four, but only one of the losses was in a game we called a should win a couple of conversations ago. Losing that one put a little more pressure on the other three should wins (UD, @URI, Saint Lou), but we've already handled one dot those. Road trips to Richmond and St Joe's weren't ever likely to turn into wins, though you could argue they should have. The conference has gone crazy, so a bye - which was our stated hope at the outset - is still well within reasonable reach. That trip to UD is shaping up to be a big one. We can't afford to come out soft like we did yesterday.
Brad: I didn't want to say it in the recap but those refs were horrid. How can you be so fat that you can't be in position? We sucked from the line, but a couple of decent, obvious calls and we win that game. Mack absolutely blew up twice, and well he should have.
Joel: Dad was hacked off, and you know how he is about officials. That dude tackling Dee was the topper for me, but the guy running over Redford after travelling also sucked. It stands as a loss, though, so we need to look forward.
Joel: I am really surprised about how the conference is shaking out. I didn't think VCU would lose twice this early on. We have to start feeding Trav in the second half. He doesn't force much, so we have to look to repost. That and free throw shooting killed us yesterday. How can a team be so bad from the line? Taylor hitting two he meant to miss was just the topper.
What's more troubling to me is how stagnant we look on the road. This team just looks completely different at home. I don't know how much research you have done, but they're not staging any meaningful tournaments at Cintas this year. We have to get better on the road. You get to see almost every game, while I've been radio and gamecast to this point. To what do you attribute our road struggles?
Brad: Being bad. Seriously, a team that needs that home boost to win any games just isn't good. You know I don't really buy into that home/away all that much. Good teams are good everywhere, flawed teams are flawed everywhere. The road isn't the reason we commit stupid turnovers, it's not the reason Martin vanishes, and it isn't the reason we are inexcusably bad from the line. I still hold that any college player should knock down 75%. It's a simple thing to do. Free throw misses infuriate me.
Joel: If we're just bad at basketball, how do we win at home? Shouldn't a bad team be bad everywhere? KenPom holds that a home court is worth about four points against the expected result. Maybe once I get my computer set up and get feeling a bit better, I'll take a look at our road v home numbers. In the meantime, thanks for your crackerjack analysis, as always. Under three of four from the line is bad; I will give you that. 20-31 is just embarrassing.
Brad: I think we are bad at home too. Yes, we beat Butler (by 15!) there, but that looks like an incredible fluke now. We've also lost to Vanderbilt and Wofford at home. We beat Temple, but KenPom only has Temple at at 69th. All of our other home wins are in games that it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect us to win on the road. It's not as if we are world beaters at Cintas and dreadful everywhere else. We are a mediocre/bad team that is mediocre/bad everywhere.
Joel: I think this team has the talent to go places, especially when it's playing well. We have a post presence, a reliable slasher, and a couple of good shooters. Wherever this season ends, it will be in a game we could have won unless we start executing from the line. Can a team simultaneously under and overachieve?
Brad: I think you are starting to delude yourself. Yes, we have a post presence, I'll give you that. Travis is probably our best player, but we don't use him all that well. Semaj is a good slasher, but Richmond did exactly what any team is going to do when they need to beat us, they fouled him. He sucks from the line, and that greatly limits his usefulness. Our shooters are your boy, who we have discussed at length and whose guts I love, and Brad Redford, who is 3-13 and averaging 2.7 points in the last four games. Both of them can be taken away. We are a 12-9 team because we aren't very good. If anything, we overachieved for a couple of wins that surprised everyone.
Joel: Look at our losses. Except for the shootout, we have been in every game at the four minute media timeout. We have the talent to go places, but we're leaving games on the floor. I can honestly see this team winning the A-10 tournament with just an increase in the quality of execution. Literally everyone on the team is taking a huge step up in level of responsibility; it's not entirely unreasonable to expect execution to be a work in progress. Keep the faith.
Seriously, though, Wofford and Tennesse. You may be right. No, you're not. We're growing as the season progresses. Why have you always been so negative?
Brad: I'm not, I'm realistic. We are a work in progress, and work in progress teams don't make the NCAAs at normal institutions (ie. not places like UK where you buy players). You can make it sound like a simple step up in the level of execution, but that's the exact thing that separates the good teams from the bad. Bad teams do not execute down the stretch because they are flawed. Good teams don't leave games on the floor because they make stupid execution mistakes or shoot 20-31 from the line. I don't like this any more than you do, but it's time for you to face this head on. We aren't good this year. The Indians signed Nick Swisher and traded for Trevor Bauer though, so we may not collapse until June this year.
Joel: Execution is tied into experience, which almost nobody on this team had much of coming into this season. These guys are hitting bumps in the road because they're learning on the fly, but they are learning. Free throws aren't really a part of that, though, which concerns me. It's going to come down to one weekend in Brooklyn for this team. A couple of years from now when Xavier is in the top 10, ESPN will be looking back on the adversity of this year as a vital growing experience. Until them, thoughx I hope they figure it out in time to send Trav and Red out in a respectable manner.